We need to do more to address the addiction crisis

BY HEATHER SHAPTER

Addiction is crippling. Toward the end I was using against my will. I was scared to be sick and go through withdrawal, so I continued getting high. Eventually, I learned about the Methadone program in my community and made the decision to start going to treatment. At the time I was on Medicaid.  Although Medicaid did not cover all of my treatment, I’m not sure what I would have done without it, or if I would have ever recovered.

I had to pay $80 per week and drive to the clinic every day for my medicine. Going to the clinic kept me accountable, but it was time consuming and made it difficult to get back to a sense of normalcy. I decided to get off Methadone and go on Suboxone. I had difficulty finding a doctor and had to drive an hour fifteen minutes each way, once a month. Once again, the Suboxone I needed was covered by Medicaid, but the $400 doctor visit was not. Thankfully I wasn’t alone – I had a great support network. My family and friends and other people in recovery rallied around me. Some of them even helped pay for my visits.

I’ve been in recovery for four years and seven months now. But that isn’t the story for so many others. And I can’t just sit on the sidelines and watch my loved ones seeking care struggle to access it because they can’t afford it, or because treatment just isn’t available.

Since January, over 3,102 lives have been lost to the opioid crisis here in New Jersey.  In August, the Center for Disease Control released new data which shows there were more than 72,000 deaths from a drug overdose nationwide last year. That’s more American lives lost in one year than those who died in the Vietnam, Iraq & Afghanistan wars combined. That works out to roughly 200 overdose deaths every day, or one every eight minutes. I’ve lost many loved ones from this crisis. I always say if you haven’t lost a loved one or been impacted by the opioid crisis yet, brace yourself because it is getting worse and it’s only a matter of time.

While it’s not perfect, Medicaid provides access to care that otherwise wouldn’t be available to addicts struggling to recover like Medically Assisted Treatment and access to inpatient and outpatient services. Nearly 40% of people struggling with addiction are on Medicaid, and another 17% are uninsured. We need to do more to expand access to care for people struggling with addiction who are on Medicaid or are uninsured, but first we need to understand why these gaps in care exist. That means fighting for real transparency and accountability from the state of New Jersey on how they’re addressing the addiction crisis.

If we join together as a community, I know we can make it possible for those seeking to change their lives to receive help without having to jump through hoops the way I did.

—Heather Shapter

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